Connective Threads

Many authors, when requested to add interior monologues for a major character, tend to panic. The person giving the advice makes an innocent suggestion like “Pick up a great novel you like. Study how that author does it.” That’s fine until you actually start reading. Then you realize that the reason you like the novel is because the character can ramble on about their private thoughts for pages at a time. How in the world are you supposed to do that?

Luckily, the goal of achieving penetration into a main character can be accomplished on a number of levels. One technique is simple to insert and surprisingly effective. It is the memory of a previous incident inside the book. For illustrative purposes let’s say: Lenny sees a black-and-blue mark on the back of Nathalie’s arm. He asks her about it and she finally admits her husband, Arthur, is sometimes too rough with her. The first thought inserted into Lenny’s head might be: That’s terrible. Arthur must be a cruel man. This immediate reaction then becomes the foundation of later remembered thoughts. 

In order for the method to work, the first memory needs to be separated from the next memory by a span of pages. One good follow-up place is at the beginning of the next chapter. Lenny is driving with Nathalie, and he glances over surreptitiously to check if he can still see the bruise. He remembers when she told him and his initial reaction. Right away you are drawing the reader deeper into the narrative. The reader remembers at the same time Lenny does.

The next bead on this string might occur 20-30 pages later. Lenny meets the husband, maybe during a chance encounter while Nathalie is grocery shopping. No matter what Arthur says, Lenny is thinking: this guy manhandles his wife. As a reader, by now I am wondering if Lenny is going to blow his top, knowing that secret about the guy. I’m involved, because Lenny tells me how he is going to react. Again, further penetration. 

A single memory can cause the reader to anticipate. She is inside Lenny’s head. This entire run of interior thinking stems from a mark on Nathalie’s arm. By continuing to remember it, letting it build each time, you can make it the basis for your protagonist’s ongoing interior reactions.

Exercise: A modification of this technique can be achieved by layering new information on top of the memory. Another 20-30 pages later, Lenny notices that Nathalie is downcast. She admits that because she has been spending so much time with Lenny lately, Arthur flew into a jealous rage. That’s all she says; she’s too ashamed to tell any more. But Lenny, because he remembers, can jump to all sorts of conclusions. He’s ready to confront Arthur. What was inside his head is now ready to play a role in the plot.

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